Travel guide: Amsterdam
If you are lucky enough to find yourself headed to Amsterdam, you will find it to be one of the most beautiful and friendly places you will ever visit. Combining art and business, new and old, Amsterdam will charm you with sights, sounds and eats unlike anywhere else in Europe. Its people are some of the world’s friendliest and the vast majority of them speak English.
The Sights of Amsterdam
The best way to enjoy the sights of Amsterdam is on foot. Bikes are popular as well, but using them in the city centre is not for everyone. While great for getting from point A to B, it’s nearly impossible to sightsee while on one, as you have to be alert for pedestrians, cars, buses and trams. There is actually a café in the Spui where watching the close calls for bicyclists is a spectator sport! If you arrive by train, everything you’d want to see is within walking distance. When you get tired, simply hop on a tram. If you’re driving to Amsterdam, there are car parks located right outside the city with public transportation connections.
Another lovely way to get a view of the many neighbourhoods that make up Amsterdam is by taking a canal cruise. Don’t write it off as a “touristy” thing to do; it is well worth it. See your bucket list of sights during the day and take a night-time canal cruise to see the lighted bridges and the city at its most beautiful. The wine and cheese cruises are a lot of fun.
The Van Gogh museum, Rembrandt’s house and the Rijksmuseum are all must-see’s. If you’re pressed for time, you could do all of them in one day by limiting yourself to an hour or so at each one. It’s not enough time to see everything, but long enough to appreciate what each one offers, and they are all within walking distance of each other. If you have time to add a fourth, go to Amsterdam’s modern art museum, the Stedelijk, which is a short walk from the Van Gogh.
You might not have time to visit them all, but you must experience one of Amsterdam’s street markets. One of the best takes place on Saturday in the Jordaan. The Lindenmarkt may just have the widest selection of goods, food, clothing and entertainment. You can even pick up a used bike to use during your time in Amsterdam, selling it back when you leave. A short walk from the Lindenmarkt is Anne Frank’s house. Along the way you will pass the Westerkerk, whose bells Anne wrote about in her diary.
The Sounds of Amsterdam
Amsterdam really is a feast for the senses, with its unique sounds rivalling the sights. Keep your ears open for the ding-dong of bells, the numerous birdsongs, the barrel organs and the splashing of water. The bells in Amsterdam date to medieval times and the Westerkerk (whose stairs may also be climbed) puts on the most well-known show. Another tradition, the barrel organ, dates back to 1875 in Amsterdam. There are currently only 2 to 3 of them left in the city, but they are still played at some popular spots for about 10 minutes twice a day.
Whether sitting on a bench or a terrace by a canal, or on a canal boat trip, shut your eyes and listen to the water. The lapping and splashing is a lovely, comforting, almost lyrical sound. Keep your eyes out for The Music Boat man, who plays a barrel organ in a painted boat. Along the canals you can also hear the singing of the finches and sparrows. Since many cafes are situated along the city’s canals, birds congregate there hoping to cash in on the crumbs that fall to the pavement.
Something interesting The Amsterdam Museum presents is an installation called “The Sound of Amsterdam.” While there, you can hear how the Dam (the city’s largest square) sounded around the years 1895, 1935 and 2012.
The Food of Amsterdam
Dutch specialties may not be as well known around the world as, say, Italian or Chinese dishes. There are, though, some fabulous foods to be found in Amsterdam and there are a few you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
Poffertjes are little fluffy pancakes made with buckwheat flour. They come with a tiny wooden fork that you use to swirl the treat in butter and powdered sugar before popping it in your mouth. Koffie verkeerd is Dutch for “wrong coffee.” Normal coffee in Amsterdam usually contains just a dash of milk, but koffie verkeerd is a 50/50 blend with milk. It’s always served with a little cookie, making it a great afternoon treat. If you want to try a stronger drink, try Amsterdam’s jenever (gin). Go for the “old” jenever, as the juniper berry flavour is more noticeable.
Raw herring, known as Hollandse nieuwe haring, is a very traditional food in the Netherlands that you should try at least once. It’s usually served with chopped onions, and you can eat it without or without bread. Finally, the Dutch patat. These delicious Belgium-style French fries are served at stands throughout Amsterdam, usually in a cone shaped holder. Be sure to get them with a big dollop of mayo, which is a gloriously thick, creamy style.
The final word for Amsterdam
There are so many great things you can do in Amsterdam, but there are also a few you should try to avoid. Don’t walk in the bike paths – some Dutch bikers cycle kamikaze style! Don’t use an unofficial taxi, no matter how good a deal and, though some may be legitimate, it’s best to stay away from the hotel runners, as well. Finally, don’t try to outrun a tram and, whatever you do, don’t try to ride for free. Many a freeloader has received a hefty fine – the transport police are watching.
It isn’t possible to see everything Amsterdam has to offer in one visit. If or, more likely, when you return, you can begin to explore the neighbourhoods in more depth. Each one has its own unique personality, with wonderful cafes, shops, galleries and restaurants. You could visit Amsterdam a dozen times and never see and experience it all.